Harassment is the main issue that affects our women and unfortunately. People and institutions have not been sensitised towards it.
This was stated by Mehnaz Rehman, director, Aurat Foundation, while speaking at an interactive session at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Friday evening. The topic of the session was “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence”. The session was held jointly by the PIIA and the Aurat Foundation.
Referring to the media, Rehman lamented that the media and other sources of information had just not been sensitised. Television anchors, she said, were just not aware of the real issues. She cited the case of eight-year-old Zainab, who was raped and killed in District Kasur, and an even more gory case of a three-month-old girl child at the Civil Hospital, Quetta, who was raped. She regretted that despite the terribly ghastly nature of these crimes, things did not seem to have improved.
She reminded the participants that they (Aurat Foundation) were not working just for women but also for men, for their wives, daughters and sisters. They were fighting a two-pronged battle, she said.
“As for the developed countries, they have formed institutions to fight the menace and institutions have a very decisive role to play. That’s why the developed countries don’t face the problem,” said Rehman. Besides, she said, punishment alone could not solve the problem, and what was equally important was economic empowerment.
Dr Masuma Hassan, director, PIIA, said that there had to be requisite laws and even more, an efficient implementation mechanism. In this regard, she cited the anti-acid law and the heredity law. “Our governments have formed laws which militate against women,” she said.
“Besides, you have to have empowerment at every level,” said Hassan. Women’s rights now were an international issue. Jamil Junejo from the Legal Advisory Call Centre said that iron-jacketed laws could break the spell of patriarchy, something that was responsible for the unfortunate lot of women. He said that to some extent, violence against women and the trend to isolate women from mainstream activities just on account of their gender had been mitigated by exposure to international organisations working for women’s emancipation.
He cited examples of places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where women voters had turned out in large numbers in certain constituencies. He lamented that there was no provision for the negation of the Anti-Child Marriage Act.
Nuzhat Shireen, chairperson of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, narrated her entry into the Aurat Foundation and her association with women’s activism. She said she had been motivated into this by the honour killings that had become so commonplace. She lamented the poor state of the safe houses meant for destitute women.
Raana Ansar, MPA from Sindh, narrated journey to the Aurat Foundation whereby she was encouraged and supported by her immediate family and neighbours. She said that in the elections, surprisingly, she polled the highest number of votes. She said she had been in the legislature for 18 years now.
Noted Sindhi poetess Attiya Abro recited two of her poems on the struggle by women. During the question-answer session, a participant said that the main trouble sprang from the fact that the men’s mindset was very tribal and feudal in nature and that they just were not ready to acknowledge the equality of women. It was this mindset, he said, that had to be eliminated which only education could bring about.